The snow-free roads and trails of summer mean Valley hikers, walkers and runners are itching to get out there for community races. And thanks to a host of MatSu-based organizers, there are plenty of events in the area to make that possible.
Anne Thomas, owner of the Aktive Soles shoe store in downtown Palmer, has her team focusing their efforts on a pair of summer-long series: Soles in the Backcountry and the Aktive Valley Trail Races, she said. Both are designed to give locals something to work towards while also inspiring healthy living even for non-runners.
Soles in the Backcountry centers around an annual challenge booklet, which participants can purchase for $15. It comes with a shirt and includes details on a series of hikes and adventures around the Valley. The booklet also functions as a raffle ticket for weekly drawings, and is worth a drink ticket at the annual postseason Aktive Soles party, scheduled this year for Oct. 4 at the Palmer Ale House. Participants can also register for the free Vertical Challenge, logging vertical feet hiked or run over the summer. The top male and female finisher with the most vertical feet logged will receive a prize, Thomas said. The weekly raffle prizes are donated by Palmer businesses.
“I think that’s a huge symbol for our community embracing active, healthy lifestyles,” she said.
Aktive Soles will also host the annual Bill Mitchell 5k during Colony Days, June 11, now held in memoriam of its namesake. Mitchell, an avid runner and volunteer with the Palmer Chamber of Commerce, died in March at age 97. Mitchell last attended and greeted finishers at the 2019 race. The 2020 race was canceled due to the pandemic.
Thomas is also hosting a series of five trail races over the summer. Registration, $100, enters participants into all races, which can be done any time during their assigned month or on a marked course on a specific date. Although the April race has already passed, runners can still register for and participate in the May, June, July, August and September events. Find more details at Aktivesoles.com.
Up in Hatcher Pass, the Happy Malamute Running company is hosting two races over the summer, both going along the Hatcher Pass Road between Willow and Independence Mine. On July 10 the Hatcher Pass Marathon will follow an almost entirely uphill course from shortly up the road in Willow, and end with a cookout at the Independence Mine parking lot. The Archangel Marathon, scheduled for August 7, starts at Independence Mine and follows the road down to Willow.
Race director Natalie Bickers said runners sign-up for the Archangel Marathon thinking going downhill will be less challenging than the all-up race, and learn quickly they are wrong.
“Archangel is a lot harder — it’s different muscles than you’re used to in running,” said Bickers. “Everything that I make people do I have done myself, and I am for sure more sore after Archangel.”
Both races have three-person relay registration options. And community members who would rather skip the run and enjoy the fun as a spectator can easily do so by volunteering to man an aid station along the pass.
“I think most people have enjoyed doing the volunteer aspect of it,” she said.
Runners hoping for an even more interesting community and group effort can also sign-up for the Alaska Relay or MatSu Relay, organized by Wasilla-based North by Northwest Relays and directed by Nathan Luke. The Alaska Relay runs teams of 12 on 200 miles from Mirror Lake to Seward over June 25 and 26. The MatSu Relay runs teams of six over 60 miles through the MatSu on September 19. Information on both can be found on NxNwRelays.com.
“The team element can’t be overplayed,” Luke said. “You’re not just out there running your own little individual race on your own terms … but you’re competing as a team and you’re getting enthusiasm and support from your team.”